Friday, August 20, 2010

Q & A on "The Best Cabinets"


Dear Peggy!

I came across your website via your 'Kitchen-Exchange' site where you attempted to pilot a survey about US kitchen cabinet manufacturers.

I wish there would have been cooperation for your project as it was an excellent idea and something that could have helped consumers to navigate through the market.

The reason why I am contacting you is to ask you for advice on exactly this issue. I am aware you may not be in the position to give advice to anyone else than your clients, so, please, consider this e-mail only as a polite attempt on my side.

My family and I live in Houston and we are about to start construction on a new house. (After we flooded, it was better to tear down and rebuild instead of remodel.)

I have tried for some time now to decide on an American manufacturer for our kitchen cabinets and find it extremely difficult to compare different qualities as the sheer number of companies is making this effort almost impossible. Since we are from Germany, I am more familiar with the German market.

So far, I understand that Wood-mode is a leading manufacturer in this country. Since we are trying to stay within a budget, I have been trying to find an alternative, a company that is comparable in quality.

I thought I had found that company with Ultracraft but someone suggested to me that they are not comparable to Wood-mode at all.

I have read that you recommend Crystal Cabinets. There is a local dealer who sells this company. I wonder, if you have any expertise as far as how Ultracraft compares to Crystal. You also mention Diamond on your side. Would you know how Ultracraft compares to Diamond? I am at a point where I feel confused. Is there any advice you could give?

I have also looked at European kitchens, yet they are frequently priced over our budget.

Despite the humidity, in Houston, the standard for new homes is to have your kitchen build on-site by a cabinet maker. I have only lived in older homes so far and have been disappointed by my build on-site kitchens. Maybe, I am too skeptical and quality of on-site carpentry has improved. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Please, only consider my questions if this is not against your policy.
Thank you.

Kind Regards


Thanks for your question Christine,

I too was sad when my effort to publicize the "good cabinets" in the American marketplace went over like a lead balloon with my fellow designers in the Industry.

Ever since I have noted wryly that the post in question, Top 10 U.S. Cabinet Manufacturers Survey, is my top traffic-getting post, even years later. So there continues to be great demand for solid information from consumers like you.

I'm afraid I don't have any personal experience with Ultracraft cabinetry. Therefore I can't give you any solid information on how well they are constructed in comparison with Wood-Mode or Crystal.

There are many Industry pro designers who follow this blog, so maybe someone else can chime in with specific answers to your questions.

Both Wood-Mode (Design Group 84) and Crystal (Quest) make a great Euro-style frameless product if that is what you prefer. They are both somewhat less expensive than their face frame products.

You might want to go to the GardenWeb Forums and do a search on Ultracraft. I did so and came up with a few posts mentioning the product.

The GardenWeb Forums are a great resource. I use them all the time when clients ask me about products with which I'm unfamiliar (Yesss. It does happen) . If your question is not already answered there, you can sign up and ask it. The participants are very helpful.

Be aware that there is a lot more to cabinetry selection than price and apparent quality of displays in showrooms. Some manufacturers are very reliable and predictable and others are the total opposite. Lots fall somewhere in between. Manufacturers that produce reliably predictable cabinets and deliver them on time are the "gold" of the Industry. Only the best and strongest dealers get them. The chaff goes to lesser, weaker, dealers. The junk goes to charlatans.

Trouble is: consumers jump into this fray usually once or twice in a lifetime and try to make sense of it all.

If I were dropped into a strange town and asked to come up with the best (manufactured) cabinets to buy there, I would first seek out the best local cabinet dealer. Then I would ask them what their best value cabinet is in the general price range I have in mind. Chances are, that would be my best bet of all the products in that market. I couldn't even hazard a guess as to what manufacturer it might be, because there are myriad small, local manufacturers in the country who only serve a small geographic area.

Play this same game with a marginal dealer and you might end up with cabinets that don't match your selection, or don't get delivered on time, or any one of a million other reasons to be unhappy with your choice.

The better dealer usually carries a full range of quality products, from high to low in price. If they don't, ask them who they recommend that offers products in your price range.

As to your questions about on-site-built cabinets, or local shop-built custom: The only way to determine the quality of such products is to look at them and ask around locally to find the best providers. I am a great advocate of catalyzed varnish finish on cabinets. There is truly nothing else you want to subject to a lifetime of abuse in a kitchen. Many local cabinetmakers still use lacquer finishes because they are cheap and dry fast. You don't want lacquer finished cabinets in a kitchen. They don't hold up.

Best of luck Christine,